Movement leaders say bad behavior not their cup of tea

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At what was billed as the first national tea party “convention” in Nashville, Tenn., last month, Mrs. Palin, a former governor of Alaska, issued an early warning that opponents of the movement would try to attack not its message but its legitimacy.

“Opponents of this message seek to marginalize this movement. They want to paint us as ideologically extreme,” given to “outrageous conspiracy theories aimed at our own government and unethical, shameless tactics,” she said.

Tea party activists say they saw evidence of that campaign in the newspaper and cable network coverage of last weekend’s protests, with reporters and commentators attributing the racial and homophobic attacks to members of the tea party movement.

“During the showdown over health care reform, some of the members of the Tea Party took off their masks,” the Chicago Sun Times wrote on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, as the House was preparing to vote, protesters reportedly spat on a black lawmaker and shouted a racial epithet at another. Another protester called openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, a “faggot.”

Republicans didn’t do enough to restrain the protesters, Democrats said, and a few were spotted on a Capitol balcony encouraging protesters shouting slogans such as “Kill the bill.”

“I would hope that we would join together jointly in making it very clear that none of us condone this kind of activity,” Mr. Hoyer said on MSNBC on Wednesday. “And when we see it, that we speak out strongly in opposition to it, and I would hope we would do that going forward.”

Tea partiers moved to distance themselves from the racial and homophobic attacks. Organizers of several Florida tea party groups said in a statement that they “stand in stark opposition to any person using derogatory characterizations, threats of violence or disparaging terms toward members of Congress or the president.”

At least 10 reports by congressional Democrats said they were harassed this week after voting for the health care bill. Congressional offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas were vandalized, and several Democrats reported obscenity-laced phone messages.

But Dale Robertson, founder of teaparty.org, said no one knows who might have yelled out racial epithets during the Capitol Hill protest. He said a Democratic lawmaker refused to accompany Capitol Police officers to identify a white man accused of spitting.

“These people could be anybody. I wouldn’t put it past the Democrats to plant somebody there,” Mr. Robertson said. “They’re trying to label the tea party, but I’ve never seen any racial slurs.”

The bus tour that kicks off Saturday in Nevada will wind across the nation. By its end, organizers say, the tour will have drawn hundreds of thousands to its protests. Mrs. Palin, who is solidifying her ties to the group, plans to urge protesters to keep focused - and polite.

“Governor Palin will again share her belief that debate must be civil and peaceful - and that the best place for Americans to express their frustration with Washington, D.C., and their commitment to our founding principles is at the ballot box this November,” said a Palin aide who asked not to be named.

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